“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. If I could have your attention for a few minutes …” Predictably, the other passengers and I failed to look up when the flight attendant issued this request.
Some stared down at phones, some feigned sleep. Many of us wore ear buds, drowning out her voice. A man across the aisle from me fed himself fistfuls of potato chips, almost robotically. Hand into bag, fist raised to mouth, hand back into bag. Crinkle, crinkle, crunch-crunch.
“Again, ladies and gentlemen, I just need a moment of your time …”
I closed my eyes and let my mind wander. That the flight attendant seemed genuinely bothered that no one paid attention made me wonder whether she was new to this line of work. What other jobs might she have held? She looked to be in her 40s, like me. Maybe she was an empty nester, beginning a new career or returning to an old one.
But then, all of a sudden—perhaps due to the rising tension in her voice coupled with the fact that so many of my fellow passengers were hunched over tiny, lit-up screens—her predicament felt eerily familiar.
I opened my eyes and sat up straight.
It can feel just like this sometimes, I thought, to be the parent of teenagers. Not always, of course, but yes, sometimes.
There are telltale signs that your child is moving into adolescence. If a once affectionate child begins to pull away, to glower at requests that he fasten his seatbelt, or snub polite appeals that she keep her space tidy, it is likely happening. And, as parents, we can feel slighted, even invisible. Just like that flight attendant.
It’s such a stark change from when children are younger. We control so much of the stories of our pre-teen children’s lives—what they eat, when and with whom they spend their time, and even—to a large degree—how they make sense of the world.
“We don’t throw sand,” we say. And, usually, they stop.
“What’s the magic word?” we ask. And, usually, they say “please.”
“No cookies until after dinner,” we command. And, usually, they wait.
But things change when they hit adolescence. Our kids begin to prefer the company of their friends to time with us. They no longer follow our advice about what to wear or what books to read. Whereas they once found us endlessly funny and entertaining (Kitchen dance parties! Silly songs in the car! Peek-a-boo!), often they find us mildly annoying. Or worse. Most of all, they want space.
Some of that passes, of course, but more important, we have to acknowledge that this is all as it should be. Since their births, we’ve raised them with the hope that they’ll be strong adults and able to make their ways in the world, independent of us. They need to develop their own friendships, cultivate their own unique senses of humor, and put their own moral convictions to the test. So, to accomplish all this and more, adolescents must engage in countless thorny, but crucial, tasks related to separating and individuating from their parents.
And, like a seasoned flight attendant, it is well for us not to take our kids’ changing moods personally, but remain focused on clearly communicating directions about safety, monitoring their progress academically and socially, and connecting in authentic ways with them. Our journeys will be much smoother, too, if we remember to provide them with snacks at regular intervals.
Humbled at my epiphany about the flight attendant, I met her gaze just as she was giving the straps of the oxygen mask a tug and instructing us to secure our own first, before helping others. I nodded in acknowledgment, as though this were novel advice. She smiled brightly at me.
Hours later, likely in gratitude for my attentiveness, she brought me a little bottle of Chardonnay—without my asking or having to pay for it. You see, when passengers treat flight attendants—or teenagers treat their mothers—with respect, they just might receive unsolicited perks.
And, regardless of delays or other inconveniences, it is well to remember that this journey will indeed come to a close, and, on the other side of it (if all has gone reasonably well), we’ll walk down the jetway together, closer than we were before, more like peers, and ready for what this new, exotic destination holds.
11 things flight attendants and mothers of teens have in common:
1. They sometimes feel invisible—except when there is turbulence or a delay.
2. They spend a lot of time picking up empty chip bags and cans of soda.
3. They repeat themselves—a lot.
4. They care about seat belts.
5. They don’t enjoy speaking to people who are wearing ear buds.
6. They don’t recommend smoking and, in fact, forbid it.
7. They like it when laptops and other devices are stowed away for long periods of time.
8. They don’t always see the best selves of the people they serve; nor do they always show their best selves to the people they serve.
9. They fabricate a positive attitude sometimes, but everyone can tell when they’re faking.
10. They get cranky when people hover near the kitchen area.
11. They are doing their best to get people safely to their next destination.
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